What is Beta-Alanine?
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that classified as a non-proteinogenic amino acid, which means it is not involved in protein synthesis and thus does not naturally occur in proteins as a single amino acid1. By contrast, beta-alanine normally occurs in protein as part of a dipeptide called, carnosine. Carnosine is made up of the two amino acids, beta-alanine and histidine. However, beta-alanine is considered the rate-limiting amino acid for synthesis of carnosine1. This means that the availability of beta-alanine, as opposed to histidine, is the primary factor determining synthesis of carnosine. For this reason, beta-alanine has been extensively researched for its capacity to increase muscle levels of carnosine, which acts as an intra-muscular buffer of acidity2.
Where Does Beta-Alanine Come From?
The major source of beta-alanine is via intake of carnosine from poultry and meat3. Once carnosine is ingested, it is rapidly broken down in the blood to beta-alanine and histidine by an enzyme called carnosinase4. Studies suggest that the average omnivore consumes between 50 to 300mg of carnosine4. Carnosine is 36.5% beta-alanine by weight, which equates to between 18 and 109mg of beta-alanine for the average omnivore5. With meat being the best source of beta-alanine, studies have also shown that vegetarians have 22% lower muscle carnosine levels6.
Beta-alanine has largely been studied for its high-intensity exercise performance-enhancing properties and is fast becoming one of the most popular ergogenic aids for sports performance2. Studies have repeatedly shown that supplementation with beta-alanine leads to an increase in the carnosine content of both type I and type II muscle fibres1, 7-9.The performance enhancing effects of beta-alanine have largely been studied using various stationary cycling protocols2 because this generally represents the most practical, accurate and cost-effective model for measurement, however, beta-alanine supplementation has also been studied in rowers, runners and bodybuilders2. Studies have typically shown that supplementation with beta-alanine leads to an increase in exercise capacity for maximal exercise intervals of between 1 and 4 mins2. Some studies have also shown that beta-alanine can increase exercise capacity for durations lasting longer than 4 minutes2.
Beta-Alanine Tingles, Negatives & Side Effects
The most-well documented side-effect of beta-alanine is the ‘paraesthesia’ symptoms induced when a single dose corresponding to more than 10mg/kg bodyweight is given. These symptoms typically entail “pins and needles” sensations, skin vasodilation and flushing or simply a “tingling” sensation under the skin. These symptoms typically appear between 10 and 20 minutes after supplementation and can last up to 2 hours. Other than this, there are no major side-effects associated with beta-alanine supplementation.
Beta-Alanine Recommended Dosages & Timing
Doses ranging between 2 and 6.4g of beta-alanine have been used in studies; however, the most common dose is between 4-6g a day2. Most studies have run for a minimum of 1-month, with a number running for up to 3 months2. Carnosine levels in muscle have been shown to continue to increase after 10 weeks of beta-alanine supplementation11, which is why many studies have run for up to two months and over. The issue of the timing of beta-alanine supplementation has not been studied; however, most choose to take it before exercise. In attempt to minimise the negative tingling side-effects of beta-alanine, a number of studies have used multiple daily doses of between 400 and 800mg to total a daily dose of up to 6.4g7, 11, 12. This approach has shown to significantly minimise the tingling side-effects of beta-alanine supplementation.
There are a wide range of stand-alone beta-alanine supplements available. Most of these come in powder form, because beta-alanine has a relatively neutral taste which is easy for most individuals to stomach. Recently, a commercial slow-release form of beta-alanine was developed to decrease its common side-effects.
Beta-alanine is most commonly stacked with creatine, because they both have proven benefits for high-intensity exercise and operate by separate independent mechanisms. Two recent studies have explored the effect of concurrent use of beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate on high-intensity cycling capacity, with mixed results13, 14, however, as yet there are relatively few supplements that specifically combine these two ingredients together. Other common ingredients that beta-alanine is stacked with include, caffeine, glycine propionyl-l-carnitine and citrulline.
Considering the large number of clinical trials that have been conducted (i.e. over 20) with beta-alanine and the multiple studies that have used high doses of 6.4g for up to two months, with no adverse health effects2; supplementation with beta-alanine is not considered to pose any adverse effects to an individuals’ health; other than the common reported side-effect of tingling skin sensation.
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